The Battle Over Evolution Still Ongoing

( [email protected] ) Nov 12, 2003 10:10 AM EST

Although the State Board of Education has already given final approval to 11 biology books that there’s no need to give alternative explanation on origin of life other than evolution, critics of evolution are still taking an action not to give up.

Dr. Ide Trotter with Texans for Better Science Education ( says although the decision wasn’t made as what he wanted, he still feels progress has been made. "The textbooks that were up for final consideration are significantly improved over those that were first submitted," he says, "and this is a long, ongoing effort."

Trotter says "the war is ongoing and all the trends of science are in our favor. It just takes time for the scientific establishment to shift its gears."

Local public schools will now provide school funds to select any of the 11 textbooks, but Trotter regret of inaccuracy of the texts. For example, the books published by Glencoe/McGraw Hill claims modern human beings and apes evolved from a common ape-like ancestor.

"There is a point in history where life first appeared. Everything that preceded that life was not governed by evolution or biology, but by physics and chemistry," Trotter says. Yet the engineer contends that the scientists and scholars who wrote the selected textbooks have put forth a "rather spurious, highly tentative past" to suggest that material science has explained everything about the origins of human existence. "It's not true," he says.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, one of the supporters of evolution critics, indicated that factual errors of evolution must be fixed before they are distributed to students.

"This is real progress in the cause of science education reform," said Bruce Chapman, president of the institute which cooperated with a Texas citizen network in challenging the books. "We were already happy that a number of embarrassing errors that overstate the evidence for evolutionary theory were being fixed.

"We were also hoping that the board would require textbooks to include coverage of the peer-reviewed scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory," Chapman added. "Unfortunately, there wasn't a majority on the board willing to enforce that. However, finally fixing these errors is an important first step to improving the accuracy of science education about evolutionary theory."

"The Discovery Institute lost," contended Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science Education, which is affiliated with the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland-based group that calls evolution a normal part of science.

"This was a victory for science, science education and all the citizens of Texas," Schafersman said after the vote. "The books haven't been censored or dumbed down. The bogus weaknesses [about evolution] won't be in the books."

A week before the Nov. 7 vote, the Discovery Institute issued a "top 10" list of the 20 corrections it said had already been made by publishers as a result of hearings in July and September.

The most significant involved the removal of a set of drawings known as "Haeckel's embryos" from two of three textbooks that included the diagrams. Named for German biologist Ernst Haeckel, the drawings present how early stage of all eight different species are very similar.

John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, said Haeckel faked the diagrams.

"People in the late 1800s and early 1900s were criticizing them, yet these diagrams had been in most textbooks until a few years ago," West said.

He credited "Icons of Evolution," a 2000 book by institute fellow Jonathan Wells, with spotlighting the problem and leading to their removal by some publishers.

"Wells had a whole chapter on [the drawings]," West said. "People overlooked the error because Haeckel was a Darwinist. They were so attracted by such a powerful depiction that we came from a common ancestor they overlooked the weakness in it. It was not only a logical error but a factual error."

Another correction involved an experiment on the origin of building blocks of life known as the Milley-Urey experiment. Two textbooks now have inserted acknowledgements that it was based on ideas about the earth's early atmosphere that are no longer accepted by scientists, West said.